We've just returned from our two-week trip to the Middle East, which involved a 13-hour flight each way and an 8-9 hour time change. I have to say, as a mom of our very, very active 17 month old, Magpie, I was not looking forward to my kiddo being confined on the plane those many hours, and the time change was also nervous-making.
But Magpie did great with the trip - handling the jet lag like a champ and tolerating the flights quite well. What a relief!
So I wanted to share what worked for us, in case it could be of help to others.
The main rule I would state is that to successfully survive a lengthy plane flight, allow yourself to break your usual parenting rules.
This suggestion breaks down into the following categories:
1. Snacks. We always travel with snacks, but we are usually pretty health conscious in what we choose. For the plane trip, we threw that out the window and packed snacks with high appeal and ease of delivery, adding a few mini boxes of sugar cereal to our typical fare of lentil chips, cheese sticks, and dried fruit. We also packed mucho formula powder (Magpie has drunk Baby's Only brand), so that if the milk overseas tasted "funny" to Magpie she'd have a comforting and familiar beverage available. So advice is, bring snacks, lots of snacks. Lots of different snacks if you can.
2. We still use a pacifier with nap time and overnight. We have been moving toward weaning her from them but decided to wait until after this trip. At home, Magpie can only have the pacifiers at nap time and bedtime. On the plane flight, we allowed her to have pacifier anytime she wanted it. This resulted in a pretty pacified kid.
3. Activities - we don't usually let Magpie watch videos or play on the iphone, ipad, etc. However, for this trip, we downloaded a few Baby Einstein videos and a couple of early toddler counting and other games (I found "recommended" video games for her age group, even though I think screen time isn't really recommended at all before at 2. I also bought sticker books, coloring books, washable crayons, and a small new toy. The idea was to have some quiet and stationary things to do with her when she started going nuts with the sitting still.
Secondly, be very thoughtful about your seating on the plane.
In specific, I'd recommend:
1. Pony up for a seat for your kid. If they are under two you don't have to, but your life will be so much easier. I promise you this is true. For previous flights, we have always flown with her on our laps. Her having her own seat was a life saver. * Edited to add: that said, Magpie did not sit in her seat for take-offs or landings. These were experienced exclusively in daddy's lap using the infant seatbelt (she hates being restrained, and she would not tolerate it in her own seat).
2. Choose your seats on the plane wisely. We opted for the first row in economy going, and we scored an empty seat beside us to boot. These were golden. Magpie was able to stand and "play" in the bigger space afforded by being in the front row and the extra seat let her lie across and sleep better. That said, coming home, we were stuck behind another row with no extra seat and we coped ok. But it was easier with the front row extra room and extra empty seat, by far.
So that's the plane flight recommendations. There is also the significant time change to contend with.
My number one recommendation for successful and quick adaptation to the time change is that you start preparing for the shift ahead of time.
For departure: We started adjusting Magpie's naptimes and bedtime several days ahead of our departure, moving both an hour later each day for about 4 days ahead of our trip. This caused some fairly suffering in our household because Magpie clung to her wake up time for three of those days, even as the sleep times moved later. But it started her in the direction of adjusting and I think reduced our suffering on arrival at our destination. We also skipped her nap entirely the first day at our destination just due to circumstances, so she was one sleepy girl by that first night. The happy result? She slept really well on the new schedule, waking up the first two nights at 3am at the time of our destination (7pm here), but quickly settling again and sleeping through the rest of the night. By the third night, she just slept through.
For return: We failed to heed our own advice and didn't pregame anything with Magpie in terms of adjustment. We've been home 6 nights, and she is still not sleeping well and is waking several times a night, so this is not the recommended course of events. It is getting better, but in hindsight, I wish for all of our sakes that we'd started moving our bedtimes/wake up times back in the right direction (it was a 9 hour change coming home), rather than wait to tackle it on arrival back in NYC. Live and learn.
Those are the main suggestions I can think of. What about you guys? What has worked when traveling internationally with little ones? Please chime in in the comments!
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